`LIVING  ZOOS'
Lee  Gaskins'  AT THE FAIR  The 1904 St. Louis World's   Fair 
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Human Zoos (called "People Shows"), were an important means of bolstering popular racism by connecting it to `scientific racism:' which attempted to tie and legitimatize   their views to Darwinism, creating a social Darwinism ideology which tried to ground itself in his scientific discoveries.

One of the earliest-known living zoos, was that of  Motecuhzoma, the ninth ruler of Tenochtitlan  (Mexico), reigning from 1502 to 1520. He had a  collection of animals, which included  unusual human beings, such  as- dwarves, albinos and hunchbacks.

During the Renaissance,  Cosimo de' Medici in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th  century developed a large menagerie in the Vatican.  In the 16th century, Cardinal Hippolytus Medici  had a collection of people of different races as well as exotic animals. He is reported as having a troupe of "Barbarians," which included the  Moors, Tartars, Indians, Turks and Africans.

In 1836, Joice Heth, an African American slave, was displayed by P.T. Barnum.  Such exhibitions became common in the `New Imperialism' period, and remained so until the mid-1940s. Carl Hagenbeck, inventor of the modern zoos, exhibited animals beside humans who were considered as "savages."

Following the Spanish-American War which  took place between April and August 1898, the United States acquired the  Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico f, over the issues of the liberation of Cuba.

At the 1904 World's Fair,  the  organizers brought in  many tribal cultures from the Philippines and other territories  in what  they considered a  "parade of evolutionary progress."  And though many officials  and the public  thought  that  learning  about  other  cultures  could  be  educational, as well as enlightening (given  the  limited means of  travel  in that  era),  many  aspects of these human  zoos,  were  steeped in racism,  self-superiority, and sideshow-ism. They  were showcased and perceived  as  “permanent wildmen of the world, the races that had been left behind.”  Visitors could inspect the "primitives" that represented the counterbalance to "Civilization."

Some of  the Philippinean   tribes were `invited,'  to  be  displayed  at the Fair,  while others  were `kidnapped,'    not  knowing where they  were going until  they  arrived in  America.   The Philippine exhibit  was massive and  showcased full-size replicas of indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the "civilizing" influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains' natural resources on the heels of the Philippine-America War.

The exhibit was under the direction of W J. McGee of the Anthropology Department of the St. Louis World's Fair.  McGee's ambitions for the exhibit were to "be exhaustively scientific in his demonstration of the stages of human evolution, as  well  as  contrasting  the  lowest known cultures  with 'its highest culmination.'  With  certain  tribes  wearing  very  little,  the exhibit was also extremely popular and "attracted considerable attention."   See the Philippine page for  for information of  the  attraction:

The Anthropology Days of the 1904 Olympics, held on August  11 to 12,  were a "scientific experiment" wherein a variety of "savages", among them Pygmies, Filipinos, Patagonians and various American Indian tribes, competed in such undignified events as mud fighting and greased-pole climbing. The  Anthropology Days were designed to test the "startling rumors and statements that were made in relation to the speed, stamina and strength of each and every particular tribe that was represented," claimed the Official Report of the Olympic Games of 1904. The Anthropology Days were seen as a near-total failure. With very little notice, the Department of Exploitation wasn't able to promote it; very few people were there to watch.

Reports from the time note that often the natives were not all that interested in the contests,  although the marathon and tug-of-war seemed to capture their attention.

A turning point in both the history of the Olympics and the development of modern anthropology, these games expressed the conflict between the Old World emphasis on culture and New World emphasis on utilitarianism.

For James E. Sullivan, (founder of the Amateur Athletic Union and was also the nation’s recordkeeper-in-chief as the editor of Spalding’s Official Athletic Almanac), however, the games were at least partially successful. They demonstrated that these savages couldn't even play a proper game of tennis, after all. Sullivan considered the natives' failure to beat the Olympic record for the javelin a sure sign of racial inferiority rather than an aversion to an apparatus never before encountered.

Ota Benga


The most famous of `savages,'  was the Pygmy  Ota Benga. Benga- 28 years, was 4 feet 11 inches, and  103 pounds; he was out on a hunt, returningto  his  camp, Ota  found that the Force Publique (a group of thugs working for Belgium government who stole  labor and raw materials from the native Africans in the Belgian Congo), murdered his wife  and  children  as well as the  rest  of  the village. Later, Ota  was  captured and    sold into slavery.

Though the  exhibition  desired 18  Africans,  Samuel Verner, (who  also  bought Benga), only  delivered 5.

When Verner arrived a month later after Ota  arrived,
he realized the pygmies st the Fair were more prisoners
than performers. Attempts to congregate peacefully in
the forest on Sundays were thwarted by the crowds'
fascination with them, as were attempts to present a
"serious" scientific exhibit.

Indian chief Geronimo (also a part of the living zoo), came
to admire Benga and gave him one of his  famous
arrowheads.

After the  Fair, Ota  was brought back  to  his  native
country,  but  was  not  received  well. Remarried, his
second wife  died  from a  snake bite.  Verner took him 
back to  America  where he was on display  at the Bronz
Zoological Gardens. On many  ocassions, he  would be
housed in the same  cage  as  monkeys.

The exhibit was immensely popular and controversial; the black community was outraged. Under threat of legal action,  director Dr. William  T. Hornaday had Ota Benga leave his cage and circulate around the zoo in a white suit, but he returned to the monkey house to sleep. He was `encouraged,' to shake his hammock like a  monkey  for  the  visitors.

The news of the exhibit spread quickly and reached the attention of a number of Black preachers, includong  James H. Gordon, Chairman of the Colored Baptist Ministers’ Conference. “Our race, we think, is depressed enough, without exhibiting one of us with the apes.”

In time Ota Benga began to hate being the object of curiosity, and with the  help  of Gordon; within a few days, the Bronx Zoo closed the attraction and Ota Benga  was released into  the care of African-American churches.

After his park experience, several institutions tried to help him. Tutored by Lynchburg poet Anne Spencer, his English improved, and he attended elementary school at the Baptist Seminary in Lynchburg. He later quit school to work in a tobacco factory in the  same  town.

Ota Benga grew increasingly depressed, hostile, and irrational.  He knew that  he  would never be able to return to his native land; on March 20, 1916, at the age of 32, he built a ceremonial fire, chipped off the caps on his teeth (which he received in Lynchburg), and shot himself in the heart with a stolen pistol.


Eating  Dog



The  47-acre site Philippine village, became home to more than 1,000 Filipinos from at least 10 different ethnic groups. The biggest crowd-drawers were the so-called primitive tribes,  especially the Igorots; a Tagalog word for "mountain people" and denotes the inhabitants of the mountains of central Luzon. Like the word Moro, Igorot had a derogatory connotation implying backwardness and cultural inferiority. whose appeal lay in their custom of eating dog.

The Igorots ate dog only occasionally, for ceremonial purposes, but  during the Fair, they were fed the canines on a daily basis. They  were  made to butcher dogs, which disrespected  their culture.   Yet  sometimes a small positive can  come out  of a massive negative. While  in St. Louis,  many Igorots attended school for the first time. After  returning to the Philippines, some made  sure their children children and grandchildren received an education. 

When word spread that wayward mutts were being roasted in the Igorot village, sensibilities were outraged.

The news and  attraction  of  the Igorots eating dog  was  an  embarresment  to  the Fair  commitee as  well  as various  St. Louis groups. It exacerbated the myth  that  these people  were  savages, and objects of inferiority to ridicule. 

After the Fair, the Igorots  who made the journey took home with them a sense of dislocation and shock that is still recalled with rancor by their descendants.

Unfortunately even today in the  Philippines,  even though `illegal,' dogs are usually sold at markets while still alive, their front limbs dislocated and tied painfully behind their backs, and a jagged tin can rammed over their jaws to make them easier to handle. All in blatant disregard of a law that carries a minimal penalty which the police do not bother to even try to enforce. Regardless there are  many  animal abuse prevention groups  in the  country  trying  to  combat this  practice. 


My Take


My take on the living zoos  is   of  course   coming  from  a 21st  mentality.  The immediate thought is one  of  disgust  and  outrageousness,  but again that coming from  a reference point of  today. Back in  1904, you have  to  remember  that the Civil War happened  only 40 years ago, most people did not  travel (especially  in  the rural Midwest),  many  were non-educated, innocent,  or ignorant, knowing little  about other countries and civilizations.

The turn of the  century, technology-driven mentality seemed to be a perfect vehicle to  showcase their  civilized `superiority,' by placing mountain people and less advanced peoples  on display.   They   were gawked at, placed in  embarrassing positions (forced to play  tennis  and  learn sophisticated dances).  At the turn  of  the  century, if you were not accustomed to modern elements, culture, or everyday ways of life that Western civilization  took  for  granted,  and you were a darker skin color,  you  were inferior.  They  failed to  understand  that different and primitive,  doesn't  mean subordinate.

And yet, in a weird  way, it might helped  some to see,  respect, and learn about  other cultures.  But besides being on display in a `natural' environment,  placing these people on  tennis  courts  to  gawk  at  their ignorance   was criminal, demeaning and diminished the alleged education  value of  the `display.' How  about they evened the  field  and  competed against  the mostly  white  athletes in  hunting?

And if you  look at Geronimo. The captive Indian chief   was  on  display. But unlike the  `primatives' from halfway  across the  world, the lengardy chief  was  asked  by the President of  the United States, and he  also made more money than any other time in his life.

I guess if the Moros  or  the Igorats  were paid  to simulate their  naturl  habits, I  would  see this as less harsh, but with  simple  exploitation which  bordered on slavery, in after-thought,  this  was a low  point  of the St. Louis   Fair.

The 1904 World's Fair wasn't  the only fair or world's fair, that  displayed  people, but  that  didn't  make  it  acceptable.  It  was a  bleeemish on what  was the greatest Fair that  ever was.